This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell.
Karen Russell has always had a knack for creating intricate, somewhat fantastic scenarios grounded by a seasoned respect for her characters and the worlds they occupy. Each story in her new collection showcases these talents spectacularly. Darkly funny and quietly moving, Orange World
is as rewarding as it is fun to read. — Renee P.
In the opening story of Karen Russell’s new collection, Orange World and Other Stories
, two “prospectors” (read: Depression-era party girls with light fingers) crash a party at a mountain lodge populated by the dead. The premise is pure Russell, as is the story’s spooky, intoxicating execution, powered by the author’s sly, evocative prose: "I had a sharp memory of standing at a bay window, in Florida, and feeling the night sky change direction on me — no longer lapping at the horizon but rolling inland. Something was pouring toward me now, a nothingness exhaled by the floury membrane of the boy." One of the pleasures of reading Russell’s short fiction is being pulled into this kind of barely unlikely scenario, where the recognizable turns suddenly porous, allowing the eerie to seep in.
This conceit is nothing new to Russell fans, who will recognize the author’s gift for fusing the supernatural and the mundane, often to comic effect. Indeed, the chief critical complaint against Orange World
seems to be that it offers an extension of Swamplandia!
and Vampires in the Lemon Grove
instead of experimenting with different narrative approaches or scenarios. This is a valid critique, but it’s hard to complain once you’re ensconced in “Bog Girl: A Romance,” about a serious young peat farmer who falls in love with the preserved corpse of an Iron Age murder victim, or the titular story, about a young mother who promises to breastfeed a foxlike devil in exchange for her child’s wellbeing.
The worlds of Orange World
are so varied and strange that it’s difficult to put the book down; it’s thrilling to be conducted through Russell’s warren of zombies and flooded waterways, dancing trees and Madame Bovary’s pet dog. And also, there is the stories’ collective insistence on finding, if not joy, then Life: ripping, bounding, impossible momentum in the face of probable error. What Orange World
may be lacking in innovation it compensates for in imagination, pleasure, and Russell’s obvious skill. We can’t think of a better way to spend a day than with this magical collection for company.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here